Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 265–312

Recent Trends in Theorizing Prehispanic Mesoamerican Economies

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10814-006-9006-3

Cite this article as:
Wells, E.C. J Archaeol Res (2006) 14: 265. doi:10.1007/s10814-006-9006-3


Theoretical frames for modeling prehispanic Mesoamerican economies have been informed mostly by political economy or agency approaches. Political economy models examine the ways in which power is constructed and exercised through the manipulation of material transfers, mainly production and distribution. Research along these lines emphasizes regional redistribution, wealth and staple finance, debt and reciprocity, and regional integration through core/periphery relations. Agency models, on the other hand, explore the social aspects of manufacture, circulation, and consumption to infer the processes by which power is negotiated and contested. Work using this framework focuses on the manner by which meaning and value are assigned to, and become fixed in, social valuables, as well as the moral and emotional dimensions of allocation and consumption. Political economy and agency approaches are converging in Mesoamerican research to forge a new, hybrid theoretical construct, “ritual economy,” which strikes a balance between formalist and substantivist views by considering the ways that belief systems articulate with economic systems in the management of meanings and the shaping of interpretations.


MesoamericaPolitical economyAgencyRitual economy

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA